David McLay Kidd waves his hand toward the beach just beyond the dunes that border the 16th hole at Scotland’s Machrihanish Dunes. “When I was a child we would come down here in the summer, and I would run on that beach and hide in those dunes,” says Kidd, a golf course architect whose portfolio includes Bandon Dunes in Oregon. “I have been dreaming about building a course here for decades.” When he finally got that chance, Kidd wanted to do more than rekindle his childhood memories. “I am hoping,” he explains, “that this course will give golfers some insight into how golf looked and felt to my Scottish ancestors long ago.”
Machrihanish Dunes is a three-hour drive from Glasgow, in a rural region of southwest Scotland known as the Mull of Kintyre (from the Gaelic word maol, meaning “bald summit”). When it officially opens on September 19, the Dunes will be the first new 18-hole links course on Scotland’s west coast in more than 100 years. The property’s owner, Brightside Leisure Development of Helensburgh, Scotland, plans to build two luxury hotels in the region. One will be in nearby Campbeltown, the departure point for a high-speed ferry that can shuttle golfers to Scottish courses such as Turnberry and Royal Troon, or across the 14-mile-wide Straits of Moyle to the Royal Portrush course in Northern Ireland. The other hotel will be in the town of Machrihanish, a short distance from Machrihanish Dunes.
The Dunes course abuts the Machrihanish Golf Club, which Old Tom Morris laid out in 1876. Of this stretch of beach where he and Kidd built their courses, Morris once said, “The Almichty maun hae had gowf in his e’e when he made this place.” If so, His intentions proved fortuitous for Kidd. Years ago, to preserve the pristine condition of the beach and dunes, the Scottish government designated the land a Site of Special Scientific Interest, tying the hands of any would-be builders. But Kidd, like Morris before him, saw little need to alter the topography.
Machrihanish Dunes still resembles the sheep farm that once occupied this stretch of coast. Long swales lead to greens framed by dunes, which block some of the wind that blows off the straits and threatens to deposit drives into long and low bunkers. “Basically, this entire course was built by hand,” says Kidd, noting that the only machine the landscapers employed was a backhoe, for shaping the greens. “There were dozens of natural holes in almost every direction. The trick was to find a sequence that would use the best holes in the most exciting and adventurous way. All we did was flesh them out.”
Kidd adds that even the maintenance of the course will be as natural as possible. “The turf here is very tight and wiry,” he says. “We won’t treat it much.” And some of the grass will be cut the way it was on the courses that Kidd’s ancestors played. “We’ll graze sheep on the rough to keep it low,” he says, “but it might take a while to get the right number of sheep.”
Machrihanish Dunes, +44.1586.554411, www.thewaygolfbegan.com